Sick baby care
Croup is caused by viruses that are contagious. The viruses can spread through the air or by touching a contaminated surface. Less frequently, allergies may cause croup. Your baby can get croup at any time of year, but it is most common between October and March.
Croup often starts with mild cold-like symptoms. As the airway swells, the child develops noisy breathing and a cough that sounds like the barking of a seal. Often a child's symptoms get worse or come on suddenly at night. The symptoms tend to repeat over the next two to three nights.
Do not give over-the-counter cough and cold products to infants and children younger than 2 years of age. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, these medications can have serious and even life-threating side effects.
Antibiotics won't help croup. Health care providers sometimes prescribe medications called corticosteroids that reduce swelling in the airways and make breathing easier. Rarely, a child with serious breathing problems may need to be treated with oxygen and medications in the hospital.
Call your baby's health care provider right away if your child develops a barking cough or noisy breathing. She may also be hoarse and have fever.
Call for emergency medical assistance if your baby:
- Appears to be struggling to get a breath
- Looks blue around the mouth
- Drools and has a lot of trouble swallowing
- Makes louder and louder noises as she inhales (called stridor), especially when resting
Steam often helps children with mild cases of croup to breathe easier. You can steam up the bathroom with hot shower water and sit there with your child for 15 to 20 minutes. If this doesn't help, try taking your child outside to breathe cool night air. The cool air helps reduce airway swelling. A cool-water humidifier (vaporizer) in your baby's room also may help. While your baby has the croup, check on her frequently during the night to make sure the symptoms don't get worse.
July 2006 (R 1-08)